On Saturday, film producer and Iraq War veteran Chris Roessner was honored by the Pat Tillman foundation with their annual “Make Your Mark” award, focused on the belief that “we should strive to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Roessner, a 2010 Tillman scholar and writer of the movie Sand Castle, used the opportunity to discuss both his outlook on life and his generation. The 33-year-old said he believes disrespect shown to millennials ignores the critical military sacrifices many have already made, and the national leadership yet to come.
Here are excerpts from his award acceptance speech:
“I want to talk about us as a generation. I’m of the opinion that one cannot disrespect our generation and respect the military at the same time. Those two thoughts are in opposition.
“And yet, over the years, I’ve heard the same folks who extol the same sacrifices of the military assign to our generation such titles as ‘selfish,’ ‘narcissistic,’ ‘eternally dissatisfied.’
“My experience has been the opposite. We are a group that has been asked to shoulder two of the longest wars in our country’s history, to weather a great recession, to surmont crippling student loan debt.
“And yet we are emerging as leaders in business, medicine, the law, the arts...
“As we look ahead, a new problem is emerging. What we now face is the problem of reaffirmation, reaffirmation of forgotten core values. We are a generation tasked with affirming that empathy is not weakness, and that strength only exists if it’s in service of something bigger.
“We must reaffirm that we are strong because we are fearlessly inclusive. Human potential is our greatest commodity, and if only some of us realize that, it’s far too few.
“We must reaffirm that we are a generation unimpressed with individual achievement and careerism. One that refuses to be fool by cynicism that masquerades as wisdom.
“And we must reaffirm that we have the courage to live a purpose-driven life, and that we know full well that our actions, our sacrifices, our triumphs will never be quantified.
“That brings me to Pat (Tillman). On Sept. 12, 2001, Pat said in an interview, ‘As far as laying myself on the line, I haven’t done a damn thing.’ What I hear in that quote is dissatisfaction. He was dissatisfied in himself because he knew he could do more, and he was dissatisfied because the world around him had yet to look the way he wished.
“So when people say of us that we are eternally dissatisfied, I think they are absolutely right, but for all the wrong reasons.
“For those who don’t know her work, Martha Graham was without a doubt the best dance choreographer the world has ever seen. She was asked in her older age to reflect upon her long and iconic life in the arts.
“She said, ‘No artist is ever pleased. For us, there is only divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us wondering and makes us more alive than all the others.’
“I wish for you all divine dissatisfaction, and I wish for you all blessed unrest. And in time, may they say of us, ‘that generation was just a little more alive than all of the others.’”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.